Arsenal 2-1 Brentford: Kai kills ’em again + Ramsdale’s eventful night

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In yesterday’s preview, I wrote about how there will be games when Arsenal need to dig in and scrap their way to three points, and the 2-1 win over Brentford was exactly that. Their game plan made life much more difficult for us than most of our recent fixtures. It was scrappy, physical, stop-starty – which was precisely what they wanted.

They did well initially to stop a fast Arsenal start, but it wasn’t long before we were on top, and deservedly ahead through Declan Rice. His header from Ben White’s cross was excellent, and it was quite something to see him time and again pop up as a de facto centre-forward. The licence to play higher up when Jorginho is alongside him in midfield looks like something he relishes – and that was his sixth Premier League goal of the season. He also has six assists to his name, and it’s interesting to think that in all the chat about whether Kai Havertz could replace what Granit Xhaka gave us last season (7 goals, 7 assists), Rice has basically done that without too much fanfare about that aspect of his game.

We should have been 2-0 up before the break, Havertz dinking a sensational Jorginho pass wide. The flag went up but he looked onside to me. What a difference that might have made to Aaron Ramsdale’s night though. Just before the break, he was closed down quickly by Yoane Wissa, who blocked the attempted clearance into the Arsenal net to make it 1-1. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. It’s a bad mistake. I felt really sorry for him, but it was his fault – just taking an extra step when he could have played the ball.

So, a bit like the Liverpool game a few weeks back, a game we should have been leading at the break saw us go in all square. Afterwards, Havertz was asked about how it felt, and said ‘Not nice’, for obvious reasons, but when the goal you concede is so avoidable, and with all the spotlight on Ramsdale, the Raya aspect and it coming against Brentford etc, there were extra levels.

For the most part, Arsenal dominated the second half. 10 shots, 8 corners, lots of pressure, but if we highlight the Ramsdale mistake, we have to highlight the things he did well in that second half too. Brentford’s chances were always likely to be few and far between, but they had them. Ivan Toney’s opportunistic effort looked for all the world like it was going to sail over Ramsdale’s head, but he leaped, got a good hand on it and made a superb save. It’s one of those that had it gone in would have looked really bad for the keeper, but without it being his fault necessarily. Arsenal’s goalies are asked to play high, well off their line, so there’s always that risk, but he pulled off a great save before I even had the chance to finish the ‘Oh no’ thought.

His second save, from Nathan Collins, was also very good, and really important. This was the 71st minute, going behind at that point would have made winning very unlikely, so it was crucial to keep the scores level. It’s also worth pointing out that if we acknowledge Ramsdale made a mistake on the first goal, Arsenal’s defence completely switched off after a Brentford throw, with nobody near Collins as the cross came in. If Havertz spared Ramsdale’s blushes with that late goal, the keeper did the same for his mates in this situation. It’s just not as obvious.

At the other end, I think we were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Leandro Trossard was pulled back. There was an earlier shout involving Martin Odegaard, but I think that was just strong defending. However, had the Trossard incident occurred up the other end and Brentford got a spot-kick, you wouldn’t be able to complain about it. Rice almost got another to put us ahead, curling a fantastic effort onto the point of the crossbar and post with the keeper stranded, and Brentford tried to make the game as scrappy as possible from then on.

Players went down, they blocked off Ramsdale more than once as he tried to distribute the ball quickly, and the clock was ticking. Then came a passage of play which saw Odegaard do really well to keep the ball, with a header to Ben White. It came back to the captain, he spotted the run, White delivered a cross into middle and Havertz was there to plant a header home to make it 2-1. For the second time this season the German international broke Brentford hearts in the dying stages of the game, and there’s no question that was a huge goal for this team.

Not simply the three points, but the message it sends. That this team can and will fight for everything. That this team has the ability to keep going. That this team has belief in its ability to win games at the death. How often have we seen the very best teams, the teams that win things, do exactly this? I know we have something of a track record of this in recent times, and the obvious explanation is that good teams do this regularly. We are a good team.

At that point, Brentford’s aversion to Arsenal wasting time was very funny. I have no real issue with their gameplan, it’s something we have to deal with, and in truth it’s probably much better preparation for Porto on Tuesday than any kind of 6-0 win you can think of. This is what we’ll face in the Champions League. However, when a team spends ages time-wasting, then gets all riled up because they get a bit back when the scoreline changes, it’s extremely amusing.

As for Thomas Frank’s insistence Havertz shouldn’t have been on the pitch because he ought to have had a second yellow for diving, give me a break. This is pure distraction from a manager whose team sit just a single point above an Everton side who haven’t won a game since December 16th, and who have have been docked six points this season. I get it, when you have just two wins in your last fourteen Premier League games, you need something to take the spotlight off you as the manager and your responsibility for that, and that’s all this is.

Was it a penalty on Havertz? No. Was it a second yellow card? Absolutely not. You can’t send a player off for that. There was some contact that he made the most of, but that’s it. Frank’s post-game garbage also conveniently ignores the penalty Trossard should have had, and the one Gabriel ought to have had right at the end. If the Brazilian was booked for a shirt pull early in the first half, what’s the difference between that foul and the one committed on him in the box? Exactly.

His opposite number, Mikel Arteta, was in much better form, as you’d imagine, reacting afterwards:

It felt great, obviously we had to dig in and earn the right to win it, but I’m really pleased with the performance, the maturity, the emotional control that we showed, and how we overcame difficulties. If you want to be up there, you have to win these types of games and the team showed that it has the tools and especially the determination, and the belief to do so.

And he had some words for Ramsdale too, whose night in the spotlight was certainly eventful:

He is a person with a huge personality and courage, very determined. Errors are part of football, it’s hard to react about it, especially for the keepers because it’s probably the most difficult position but he did it in an amazing way. I am not surprised because the whole team and whole stadium was behind him. He has that respect and admiration and really wanted to win for him that moment and he really helped us to win the game.

There’s a lot of talk about how this might have been his last Arsenal appearance, and that might well be the case. You never know though, injury or suspension might see him required again, and I’m glad for him that he responded well to his mistake, and that we got the goal which meant that error wasn’t the biggest talking point this morning.

Overall, a tough night, but nothing we didn’t expect. There’s not much turnaround time between now and Tuesday, so all the focus for the players and manager will be on Porto. For fans though, we can watch today’s game between Liverpool and Man City, and hope for a favourable outcome with the three points we needed in our back pocket. Oh, and quick a mention for my guy Ben White with two assists. Golden Thighs comes up with the goods.

Right, have a great Sunday folks. Back tomorrow with more and a brand new Arsecast Extra.

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